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Planet Janet: The Survivor Magnolia

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Janet Combs

There were a lot of random, Dr. Seuss-ish trees on our property, interspersed with thickets of shrub-like growth from old stumps, all draped with that indestructible, thorny, South Carolina state vine of despair. Quick, get a photographer from Southern Living over here to capture this one-of-a kind landscaping concept!

My husband and I would often look down on our yard from the upstairs deck and—depending on our mood—we would view it as either wooded and natural or as an atrocity; an overwhelming project to be scheduled for some time in the future. When? When we magically acquired the superpower to turn back time and regain the strength and stamina of our 20-year-old selves.

In the beginning, we couldn’t even begin to formulate a landscaping plan, because our property was so overgrown with everything that thrives on the years of neglect of a foreclosed home. How could we visualize what we could plant to add color and variety and shade to our yard, when it was completely obscured by dense, wild vegetation? We had to clear it, and by we, I mean a young college student named Dyob, whose name has been spelled backwards for privacy.

Dyob had the savvy to advertise his willingness to make extra money doing yard work while home from college during the pandemic. He posted this on the “NextDoor” application.

Typically, this application provides little more than Saturday-morning entertainment for my husband and me: he reads aloud posts by strangers with no filters while I’m enjoying my morning coffee. NextDoor is supposed to be a helpful vehicle for the exchange of community ideas—snake identification, contractor reviews, gardening tips. But folks in my neighborhood seem to be obsessed with broadcasting their commentary on other people’s behavior. Apparently, lots of people should or should not be doing a lot of things that they are doing or not doing! Also, some people should stop or start doing some things immediately!

Dyob’s post therefore stood out, as it pointed no fingers, made no claims, and demanded neither criticism nor praise. It was the gold standard of NextDoor posts. My husband said, “Maybe we should give him a call? Maybe he would be interested in helping us clear out the yard?”

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My husband met with him and went over our goals—and found Dyob to be willing, able, motivated, and hard-working. After a couple of weekends of Dyob’s work, we now have a beautiful “blank slate” of a side and back yard to ponder—and we are enjoying just thinking about it, the way you anticipated a vacation back in the pre-pandemic times. Lately, we’ve been riding our bicycles through the neighborhood and pointing out plants that we like, as well as ones that don’t strike our fancy. If we were different people, we’d post our negative opinions on NextDoor: some people definitely should be planting or not planting the things they are growing or not growing!

But let me get to the point of this column, here in the very last paragraphs. In the process of cleaning up the yard, one lovely discovery happened: we uncovered a wild Magnolia, perfectly situated off to the side of our backyard, but dwarfed and overwhelmed by scrubby pines and a carpet of prickly vines. It must have struggled for years in the shadows, but it held on tenaciously, seeking whatever light and nourishment it could capture, the way survivors will.

Dyob was hesitant at first, but my husband encouraged him to cut away the crippling brush suffocating the tree. Suddenly, the sun shined on it and it seemed to straighten up and sort of take stock of its true self. It’s just magnificent.

I can’t tell you how much joy it brings my husband and me, to look out at that survivor Magnolia.

I guess we can all do with a little cutting away of our crippling brush from time to time.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at

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